The first two minutes of the documentary “Untold: Operation Flagrant Foul,” now streaming on Netflix, about former NBA referee Tim Donaghy should surprise viewers and make them reevaluate their definition of truth.
The words in bold appear on screen as the producers ask the NBA to comment on the film: “Tim Donaghy is a convicted felon. … There is no basis now to review any of this.”
Then Donaghy, a Pennsylvania native and 76ers fan, appears on screen and illuminates these words through a voiceover: “I love the game of basketball. Growing up, it’s everything I did, everything I dreamed of, and everything I wanted to be a part of. Man, I made (expletive) my life upstairs.”
Aside from the legal facts of the case, the last sentence of that statement might be the most honest thing said in the entire documentary.
“Operation Flagrant Foul,” which is also the name of the federal investigation into Donaghy and the scheme, delves into the 2007 gambling scandal that nearly took down the NBA, calling its integrity into question. Accusations, innuendos and lies come from a cast of lawyers and characters, including Donaghy’s co-conspirators Tommy Martino and Jimmy Battista, telling a story that many have long wanted to forget, especially the NBA (no one from the league was involved). in the film).
Although he wrote a book about the ordeal, 2009’s “Personal Foul: A First-Person Account of the Scandal that Rocked the NBA,” Donaghy says part of the reason he wanted to make a documentary was to get to the bottom of it. of what was going on. fact, as well as the NBA’s culpability and “why it was swept under the rug so quickly.”
“And also because I think there are a lot of misconceptions,” Donaghy told USA TODAY Sports.
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One such misconception is that Donaghy officiated the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, where several calls were questioned. (He didn’t, but he did officiate the infamous “Malice in the Palace” fight between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons.)
“The whole game-fixing thing. And there were a lot of things in the US Attorney’s Office that were a little shady,” Donaghy said. “And obviously the NBA and David Stern (former NBA commissioner who died in 2020) said that I was a dishonest referee. Those things are not true.”
While the NBA denied leaking details of the FBI’s investigation of game repair to the media so it could later do damage control, Donaghy warns fans, even today, to have a skeptical mind when watching a NBA broadcast. league.
“I was in the inner workings for 14 years and I saw what we were going to do and how the star players were treated, and it was different depending on what was on the front and back of the jerseys,” said Donaghy, who also claimed The league wanted to extend the playoff series as a result.
“And the rules were not enforced as written in the rule book. I saw it then, and I still see it now.”
The FBI’s conclusion was that Donaghy did not rig games or make calls to benefit his bets, and the NBA issued its own report detailing the misconduct, finding “there was no basis to disagree with the finding of the FBI and the of the US Attorney that ‘[t]there is no evidence that Donaghy ever intentionally made a particular decision during a game to increase the probability that his game choice was correct.'”
In 2008, Donaghy pleaded guilty to two counts, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and transmitting wagering information through interstate commerce, essentially giving inside information to his friends at the games he worked on. He lost his support, wife and pension, and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
The FBI also examined several other league officials, including Scott Foster, to see if this was a widespread problem, but that investigation has been halted.
Now 55 and living in Florida, Donaghy, a divorced father of four, says he still gets recognized when he goes out, but he’s in a good place these days. To earn income, he has appeared in Major League Wrestling playing a crooked referee and also manages various rental properties.
“I affected a lot of people, but there’s not much I can do except move on and make better decisions,” he said.
A little rueful and certainly defiant about his thoughts on the NBA and Battista, when asked how a viewer watching the documentary can tell when someone is telling the truth, the answer is repeated every time: he and the FBI are telling the truth. true, everyone. otherwise, not so much.
“I think Tommy and I are similar in the stories we tell. Every time Battista opens his mouth to speak, you can tell he’s lying,” Donaghy says bluntly.